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The English Enigmas

by Daniel Wood

In the history of our glorious game only 25 men have had the career longevity combined with the immense skill level required to complete the amazing feat of “A century of centuries”.

Incredibly English cricket had 12% of this very select all-time group playing Test cricket for them in the 1990s

The colossus that is Graham Gooch was coming to the end of his stellar 20 years in the spotlight, yet the other two were both at the very beginning of their international careers.

One had been forced to go through the agonising (for player and fans alike) wait of a seven-year qualification period but was still only 25 years old when he debuted, whilst the other wasn’t yet 21. They both made their eagerly anticipated Test debuts in the same match. The First Test of the 1991 English summer.

The two men, as if you didn’t already know by now, were Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash. Over 75,000 first-class runs between them in their careers speaks of two of the most gifted men to ever pick up a bat. Their contrasting styles lit up the county circuit between the mid-80s right through to the summer of 2012. Surely prolonged international careers were inevitable? However, a combined Test record of 5733 runs with 8 centuries in 117 matches at an average of 29.32 tells a different and slightly bemusing story.

Graeme Hick – “a flat track bully” according to John Bracewell, ironically labelled “Braveheart” by Merv Hughes and the 1993 touring Aussies was quite simply a run machine for Worcestershire No-one in the history of the game has scored more runs in all forms of cricket than him and only Graham Gooch can top his 41,000 First Class run aggregate. The excitement of waiting for him to qualify for England reached fever point as he used to pile on run after run. With every hundred, or 405* the wait seemed to lengthen, and anticipation heighten. With England losing at home in every series from 1986 to 1989 the desperation for him grew and grew.

Finally, in 1991 the wait was over. After a soon to become all too familiar drubbing Down Under in the winter of 1990 England went into the year knowing that they had a special weapon to unleash. Making his debut alongside him on that June morning in Yorkshire was a precocious talent and former captain of the England U19 team “Ramps” was another who looked destined to dominate the English middle order for a generation.

The visitors for the first part of summer were the still much feared West Indies. The batting line-up, pre-Lara, was ageing but the tourist’s attack boasted no less than three all-time greats (Ambrose, Marshall, Walsh) as well as a slew of fierce back-ups.

This ultimately was the undoing of both Hick and his fellow debutant Mark Ramprakash throughout their careers. They both would come unstuck time after time in an era when wherever you looked teams would possess some of the finest bowlers of all-time. As well as the West Indies quicks, Hicks and Ramprakash would face, amongst others: AUS (Warne, McGrath) SA (Pollock, Donald) PAK (Wasim/Waqar). Is it any wonder their averages were so low?

Their debuts contained beautiful symmetry in that Hick made 6 in both innings and Ramprakash 27. In time it was Hick though that would have the better career to look back on. He made 6 Test centuries and an agonising 98* in Sydney when Atherton’s infamous declaration robbed him of an Ashes ton. Ramprakash has an Ashes century to his name but both men would ultimately look back on their Test careers with a sense of unfulfilled promise.

It was a strange time for English cricket, with a lack of consistent team selection eroding the fragile confidence of besieged batsmen. Massively under pressure players going out to bat knowing that they were only ever one failure away from being dropped.

Atherton, Stewart, Thorpe, Smith; Hick and Ramprakash were much maligned but on the evidence of recent England batting performances I think I’d be happy with that top 6! And who knows, up against Seales, Roach and Mayers; maybe, just maybe our two “enigmas” could have cracked the code on the international stage.

Follow me on Twitter at: @80s90sCricket

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